Royals use D, steady attack to sweep
See-saw battle with Tigers ends in home team's favor
KANSAS CITY -- Zzzzz. That's the sound of the Detroit Tigers going to sweep.
Improbably, the Royals swept three games from the American League Central leaders with a 7-4 victory on Thursday as 12,029 rather surprised fans watched at Kauffman Stadium. The sweep, Kansas City's first since June 12-14 against Cincinnati, extended its win streak to four games.
And all four wins came against first-place clubs -- a victory over the Angels preceded the three over the Tigers. The Royals had not won four straight since June 15, when they added a win over Arizona to the three over Cincinnati.
"It feels absolutely tremendous, especially against the three starters we did it against," manager Trey Hillman said. "The thing that we've been harping on since the start of 2008 Spring Training is trying to get guys to see more pitches and get deeper in the count. Not because we're trying to take the bat of their hands, but that's how you get to starters."
They went against Rick Porcello, Justin Verlander and Jarrod Washburn in that order -- three starters with a combined record of 37-23. The Royals countered with Bruce Chen, Robinson Tejeda and Lenny DiNardo, who had a combined 2-7 mark.
So who would have figured this?
"When the momentum starts going in their favor, we've got to grab it and that's what we've done the last four days and that's what helped us win these games," Mitch Maier said.
DiNardo, filling in for injured Gil Meche, made his first start for the Royals since being called up from Triple-A Omaha. He went five innings and left with a 3-2 lead.
"I had a few butterflies there in the first inning, it's been about a year since I pitched in the big leagues. I felt like I got rid of it pretty soon after the first couple of pitches and settled down and started throwing more strikes," DiNardo said.
"The key for me is getting ground balls, and I felt like I got the ground balls when I needed to and I got this defense behind me that made some really, really great plays and it worked out well."
The Royals reeled off three of their five double plays while DiNardo was pitching. And the Royals gave him a 3-0 lead before the Tigers scared up two runs in the fifth.
The inning began as Wilkin Ramirez hit a line drive to center field. Maier took a step in, retreated too late and the ball sailed over him for a triple.
"No excuse, I saw it the whole way," Maier said. "It just had a little more oomph on it than I anticipated. He's a big, strong kid."
That was followed by a sacrifice fly. The Tigers added a run on Ryan Raburn's double and Placido Polanco's single. And, in the sixth, they took a 4-3 lead with two runs against relievers Yasuhiko Yabuta and Roman Colon.
Then came that momentum reversal that Maier was talking about.
With Washburn out of the game, Alex Gordon started the Royals' sixth with a home run against reliever Zach Miner, his first blast since being recalled from Omaha. Yuniesky Betancourt walked, David DeJesus bunted safely and Billy Butler smacked an RBI single and the Royals were up, 5-4.
And that lead held as other recent callups from Omaha pitched in. Left-hander Dusty Hughes rescued Colon with two on and two out in the seventh.
"What Dusty did was extremely impressive -- obviously it's a high-stress, tension situation," Hillman said.
Hughes added a scoreless eighth, which ended with a lightning double play started by Gordon at third.
"First and second with the big guys coming up," Hughes said. "Good thing I didn't have to face [Magglio] Ordonez or [Miguel] Cabrera with more men on base."
In the meantime, the Royals padded their lead. They loaded the bases in the seventh, settling for one run on Betancourt's sacrifice fly.
Then, in the eighth, Alberto Callaspo lined a solo home run at the edge of the right-center wall, where fans were leaning over from the Pepsi Party Porch. Tigers manager Jim Leyland questioned the umpires' call.
"They think I've got no pop," Callaspo said with a grin. "I hit that ball good."
That falls under the home run review provision and the umpires adjourned to watch a TV replay. They quickly upheld the call and the Royals kept a 7-4 lead. It was the second review this year at Kauffman Stadium; a foul call on Butler on June 13 against the Reds was upheld.
With a three-run lead, there was no pressing need for closer Joakim Soria, who had been worked hard in the previous three wins, notching a save in each game.
"It really wouldn't have been smart to pitch Jack -- I'm glad we hit that home run," Hillman said.
So he called on Carlos Rosa, also up from Omaha, to make his first appearance. Ordonez singled, but Cabrera hit a vicious line drive that Butler snagged right at the first-base bag for a double play. Rosa got Don Kelly to ground out to notch his first big league save.
All five of the Royals' pitchers had been at Omaha this season.
"I went down there, and they didn't have the greatest record, but they had some guys in the 'pen that could do some things," Gordon said. "At least when I was down there, DiNardo and Hughes were lights out, so it was no different here."
Except these were the mighty Tigers they were dealing with so well.
And the sweep was sweet.
"That was cool. The record doesn't show it right now, but I think we're playing pretty good," Gordon said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.